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Biggie Shorty

Don't worry about the obtuse organizational idea--the works work

Jordan Kasey's "Untitled"

By Bret McCabe | Posted 12/30/2009

Size Matters

Through Dec. 31 at the Load of Fun

A closing party for Size Matters runs 6-9 p.m. Dec. 31 at Load of Fun.

Local artist Jen Kirby is a master of the epic ephemeral. Her string installations, as seen at the Whole Gallery's Off the Wall last April and the University of Maryland at College Park Stamp Gallery's The Unfolded Crystal in August, straddle the onerous environmental and the whispery psychological: She creates subtle spaces out of colored thread that become spidery webs up close, but vanish when seen from a distance, as if they're absorbed by their surroundings. She works a similar alchemy with her window installation at the Load of Fun studios for Size Matters. In "Love Us," Kirby spells out her titular imperative in strips of masking tape on the North Avenue building; the letters themselves are geodes of diamond shapes. It's a lovely design, although you don't instantly recognize it as a stand-alone piece. It's so slyly and seamlessly integrated into the building's façade that it's almost invisible, making "Love Us" a mini thesis succinctly articulating the show's curatorial subheading: "an exhibition of porous proportions."

It's also the only work in this 10-artist show that appears to be sympathetic to that curatorial idea. As organized by Lexie Macchi (an erstwhile City Paper contributor), the aesthetic throughline holding the works together is less a smooth curve than a very loose theme--more a suggestion, really. Pieces are large or small, explore ideas big or mundane, specific or abstract, and vary across media. If there's a conversation about proportions-qua-size, media porousness, or something or other, it's elusively manifested and played very close to the vest.

Not that it really matters, as the works themselves engage the eye and brain without having to say much to each other at all. To wit: Twig Harper's interactive installation "Machine for Space and Time Travel." For it, Harper has suspended a hammock-like cocoon between two pairs of speakers, such that the blue sack spins between a square formed by the speakers, which are about 3 feet off the ground. It's meant to be experienced: You get inside the hammock with a blindfold, the fabric completely envelops you, and--at the opening at least--Harper gives you a slight spin once you're totally inside. The speakers play a loop of watery percussions, beats, and noises that creates a bubbling, disembodied stream passing over rocks. It's a sneaky disorientation: It deprives the visual senses while drowning the audio senses, and is quite effective at producing a peacefully discombobulating experience for the space-time traveler cozily snuggled in the suspended fabric womb-qua-primitive time capsule.

That piece is everything that Dan Deacon's installation "Bromstent" is not. For this environment, Deacon has created a tent, much like the one that appears on the cover of his 2009 album Bromst, and offers what feels like the ideal listening environment for the album. There's a sleeping bag, a pillow, a gatefold copy of the album, a miniature tent to play with, a pair of headphones connected to a portable CD player playing Bromst, and sparkly, multi-colored flashing lights. As a manifestation of an aesthetic, it's Norman Mailer unabashed; as an individual piece in a group show, it might as well be an advertisement.

Such is the ricocheting quality coursing through this show: mind-bogglingly inventive and insouciant one moment (Anne Israel's outstanding three miniatures, for which she gorgeously and meticulously transforms items into old-fashioned dollhouse preciousness, albeit one where an electric chair or lethal-injection table sits just off the parlor room where you might enjoy tea and crumpets) and curiously one-dimensional the next. That's the big problem with the Furby and trash-can sculpture by Philadelphia's Space 1026 member Andrew Jeffrey Wright. His "Jim Drain" (a collaboration with Barry McGee) is uncharacteristically sotto voce--subtlety not typically being one of Wright's problems--wherein a trash can full of Furbies houses a scene wherein a single Furby is tagging a bathroom wall with jim drain--the former Fort Thunder resident/Forcefield collective artist who recently occupied the Workspace emerging artist showcase at Austin's Blanton Museum of Art. The piece's simple expression of aesthetic solidarity will be apparent to biennial trainspotters and XLR8R readers, but without the name recognition "Jim Drain" feels like an artifact from 1999, the sort of purposely quasi-edgy material that was dated before the Beautiful Losers documentary hit DVD earlier this month.

Such missteps are minor, though, and the show's high points definitely hit higher than most group shows. Asa Osborne's digital photographs feel like satellite images or landscape shots of some strange, distant world, while Jordan Kasey continues her dogged journey into the quotidian uncanny. Over the past two years, Kasey's canvases have depicted an imaginative landscape of quietly eerie moods. Her subject matter is never specifically unsettling, nor is her palette prone to manipulative hues. She favors earthy tones and rather innocuous compositions, but something about them produces a mood of wonder and an encroaching sense of trepidation. Here, her sneaky "Backlit Figure" offers just what its title says: a nebulous figure lit from behind. Stare at the image, though, and the mind invents a troubling scenario, and you start to get the feeling of somebody much bigger, stronger, and dangerous being almost upon you, coming to get you for something that won't be pleasant. The painting feels to capture the moment right before the last, as if the lens flare of sun over its shoulder may be the last burst of light witnessed before all goes dark.

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